TASER executive asks why air marshals don't have non-lethal choices
By BETH DeFALCO
PHOENIX- Following a fatal passenger shooting at a Miami airport, stun gun maker Taser International questioned why federal air marshals aren't given less-lethal weapons like Tasers.
Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, was killed Wednesday after marshals opened fire in a jetway with their SIG Sauer handguns after he ran from a parked American Airlines plane shouting that he had a bomb, authorities said.
Two marshals chased Alpizar from the Orlando, Florida-bound plane and confronted him. According to Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, they opened fire after Alpizar ignored commands to stop and lie down, then approached the marshals as he reached to his backpack and continued to claim he had a bomb.
No explosives were found after the shooting.
"As we learn more and more details, it is a logical question. Why are marshals only given a lethal option?" asked Taser President Tom Smith.
Smith, whose company is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, points to a September incident in Manchester, England when airport police used a Taser to subdue a man after he was seen acting suspiciously in a restricted area where aircraft park.
Like Alpizar, the England man was believed to suffer from mental illness. Alpizar's wife was heard saying he was bi-polar.
But Adams said that Tasers don't offer enough insurance in such high-stakes situations.
"They are not accurate at all," Adams said. "It would not be a viable option for us immediately, especially if it were a terrorist act."
"Sometimes a situation requires you to jump right to the use of deadly force," Adams said.
A Taser shoots two barbed darts attached to wires that deliver a 50,000-volt jolt for several seconds. The electrical current overwhelms the nervous system, temporarily immobilizing an individual.
Smith said the weapon has a 25-foot (7.5-meter) range _ long enough to deal with most "confrontational" situations.
Wednesday's shooting marked the first time a marshal fired a weapon on duty since the Sept. 11 attacks, which prompted the hiring of thousands of new officers.
Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, United Airlines purchased 1,300 Tasers for use on their airplanes. They trained all flight crews to use them, and planned to store them in the cockpit.
United applied for approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to carry the electronic stun guns on board but dropped their request to focus on installing secondary cockpit barricades.
United spokesman Jeff Green said the airline still has the Tasers but has no immediate plans to reapply for permission to carry them on board. He said the carrier was instead focusing on ways to keep people out of the cockpit altogether.
"It's a proactive measure versus a reactive measure," Green said of the doors versus Tasers.
Smith said Tasers are safe for use on aircraft. United tested the weapons on a 45 minute shuttle flight without incident.
Unlike firearms, which can disable a plane if fired into cockpit instruments, Tasers didn't appear to interfere with a plane's electronics when fired inside the cockpit next to navigational instruments.
"I fired on it an Airbus to show it doesn't have any affect on the aircraft," Smith said.
No other domestic airlines have purchased Tasers, Smith said.
However, Tasers are currently being carried on flights by Korean Air, which in May 2002 was granted permission to land at U.S. airports with the Tasers aboard.
Smith said: "It seems these foreign countries are more progressive about it."
On the Net:
Taser International: http://www.taser.com
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